JUST JIM DALE

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Roundabout at Laura Pels Theatre (111 W. 46th St., between 6th & 7th Avenues)

If you’re in the mood for an evening of light entertainment, this one-man autobiographical review starring the very charming Jim Dale may be just the ticket.

In a Nutshell: Chances are, if you are of less than “a certain age,” you’re not familiar with British/American star Jim Dale. However, once you get to know him, you’ll be a fan. Far from being “Just” Jim Dale, this versatile performer is a seasoned pro who has achieved success in practically every field of show business.

Mr. Dale is ably accompanied by Mark York, billed as “Mr. Dale’s personal pianist since 2006.” The show is written by Mr. Dale and directed by Richard Maltby, Jr.

What’s It All About? In Just Jim Dale, the Tony-winning song and dance man shares the personal story of his transformation from little Jimmy Smith in the tiny English town of Rothwell, to performing 14 shows a week in British music halls, an early career as a pop singer, to the Shakespearian stage, and on to great success as Jim Dale.

Dale’s musical hall past serves him well in Just Jim Dale—he has an easy, companionable style that extends over the footlights to directly engage with the audience. And the small size of the Laura Pels makes it the perfect venue for this intimate one-man performance.

Dale has enjoyed an incredibly diverse 60-year career in show business. He has triumphed in film, television, music, theatre, and even audiobooks: he created nearly 150 different voices for all of the characters in the award-winning “Harry Potter” audiobooks series. (If you haven’t listened to the audiobooks you can hear a few examples of those characterizations in Just Jim Dale).

He won a Best Actor Tony in 1980 for his performance in the title role of Barnum, has five Tony nominations, four Drama Desk Awards, and four Outer Critics Circle Awards. Other Broadway performances include Scapino, Joe Egg, Me and My Girl, Candide, and the role of Mr. Peachum in The Threepenny Opera.

And I bet you didn’t know that he penned the lyrics for the Oscar-nominated hit tune “Georgy Girl”. That song (performed by the Seekers) was a huge hit, reaching #2 on the Billboard chart in 1967 and selling over 7 million records. Dale performs the song in Just Jim Dale (and at least half of the audience left the theatre humming its catchy riff).

Furthermore: Incredibly, Dale is now 78 years old. His years of training as a dancer have served him well: he is whippet thin, as lithe as a gymnast, and has the stamina and flexibility of a man less than half his age. Since most of the audience members at the Pels appeared to be of his generational cohort, they were particularly in awe of his youthful vigor. It was also obvious that many of them had seen Dale in his many New York theatrical appearances. So Dale was performing for his fan base and he delighted in their warm embrace.

Show Highlights:

–        No need for the standard “please turn off your cellphones” pre-show announcement at this production. The audience is treated to a very funny prerecorded (by Dale) explanation of what will happen to anyone whose phone rings during the performance.

–        “There’s a Sucker Born Ev’ry Minute” from Barnum. It’s a terrific song (by musical great Cy Coleman) and Dale nails it: “Why you can bet I’ll find some rube to buy my corn. Cause there’s a sure-as-shooting sucker born a minute, and I’m referrin’ to the minute you were born.” You’ll see why he won the Tony for his performance.

–        “You Think You Haven’t Quoted Shakespeare?” is a witty patter number made up of commonly used snippets from Shakespearian works strung together into sentences. One of the tour de force moments in the show, along with “The Museum Song” from Barnum, another star turn where Dale has an opportunity to show off his ability to deliver a rapid-fire vocal.

–        “Georgy Girl.” Who knew Dale wrote those lyrics? “Hey there, Georgy Girl. There’s another Georgy deep inside. Bring out all the love you hide and, oh, what a change there’d be. The world would see a new Georgy Girl.” (How long until you get the song out of your head)?

Should You Go? If you know who Jim Dale is (which probably means you’re over 50) you’ll delight in hearing his picaresque tales, listening to him sing, and watching his “rubber man” dance moves. If you’re a 20- or 30-something with more modern tastes, you may be advised to choose another show.

Caveat: With a run time of only 1 hour, 40 minutes (no intermission), the show seems a bit overlong, even for the most ardent fan.

Trivia: In The Simpsons episode “Lisa the Beauty Queen”, Homer sings a parody of “Georgy Girl”: “Hey there, blimpy boy! Flying through the sky so fancy free!”

Ticket Info: As of this writing, the show runs through August 10. Half-price tickets are frequently available at the TKTS booth in Times Square.

Just Jim Dale show website

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IF/THEN

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Richard Rodgers Theatre

226 W. 46th St. (Broadway/8th Ave.)

Lead Cast:  Idina Menzel (Elizabeth), LaChanze (Kate), Anthony Rapp (Lucas), James Snyder (Josh), Jenn Colella (Anne), Jason Tam (David)

In a Nutshell: Neither the critics nor the Tony nominating committee were kind to If/Then. Variety called it a “smaller-than-life show” with “flaccid” music. The NY Daily News deemed it a “platitude- and cliché-clogged work.” And the show was nominated for only 2 Tonys (Best Actress in a Musical and Best Original Score; it didn’t win either. It was overlooked for Best Musical). The only aspect of the show that was universally praised was Broadway powerhouse Idina Menzel’s performance.

So, when I settled into my seat at the Richard Rodgers Theatre I wasn’t expecting much. I figured the show would be mediocre at best, but that the price of my discounted TDF ticket would be worth the opportunity to hear the magnificent Ms. Menzel. Imagine my surprise when I found myself enjoying the show from the very beginning!

From the moment Idina Menzel takes the stage, until almost the end, the show is engaging and beautifully staged. Menzel’s first line, spoken on the telephone, but seemingly directed at her many fans in the audience) is, “Hi, it’s me.” While the show is overly long at 2 hours, 35 minutes, and while the plot is sometimes confusing, the bottom line is that If/Then is a very enjoyable, original, interesting modern musical with excellent performances by the entire cast (not just Idina; LaChanze, a former Tony winner, is exuberant as Elizabeth’s lesbian friend Kate).

The Plot: OK, this isn’t easy to explain. Basically, it’s the idea of “the road not taken.” If you’ve seen the film Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow, you’ll have an easier time figuring it out. (That film explores the 2 possible life paths determined by whether Gwyneth’s character gets on a train or misses it).  Elizabeth (Ms. Menzel) is a newly divorced urban planner who has left her unfulfilling life in Phoenix behind to explore her next chapter in New York City. But what will that new life be? Will it be as Liz, a down to earth woman who marries and has 2 children with a handsome Army doctor named Josh? Or will she become Beth, a single, ambitious career woman who becomes pregnant by her best friend Lucas (who is gay), and has an abortion?

As the play progresses, we see both potential lives played out, side by side, with Liz/Beth surrounded by the same group of friends in both scenarios. To help us differentiate between the two sides of Elizabeth, Liz wears glasses. Sometimes it’s not clear who is who. But really, it doesn’t matter. I just sat back and enjoyed the music, lyrics, performances, and interesting set design. If you overthink If/Then you’ll wear yourself out.

In the prologue, Elizabeth sings “What If?” which outlines the idea of the multiple possibilities. Other musical standouts are the touching “You Learn to Live Without” and Menzel’s 11:00 belter, “Always Starting Over.”

Should You Go? Yes! We don’t have many really original musicals on Broadway, and I think this show has been underappreciated. I believed all of the bad news about it and may skipped it had I not been able to snag a discounted ticket (thank you, TDF). The show is frequently available at the Times Square TKTS booth.

Idina Menzel is a sensational, one-of-a-kind Broadway star. I have seen all of the Tony-nominated Best Actress performances this season, except for Jessie Mueller’s (she won for her performance in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, beating out Menzel). So, I can’t judge, but I have a feeling Menzel was robbed. The Rodgers is a large theatre (with over 1300 seats) and nearly every one was filled at the Tuesday evening performance I attended. If/Then is definitely a hit with the public, if not the critics.

Trivia: If/Then reunites Menzel with her director (Michael Greif) and co-star (Anthony Rapp) from the original 1996 Broadway production of Rent.

Menzel already has a Tony for her performance as the green, misunderstood Elphaba in Wicked.

Parents of young children have probably heard Menzel’s stunning rendition of “Let It Go” from the Disney movie Frozen more times than they can comfortably admit.

Menzel received worldwide publicity when John Travolta hysterically mangled her name on the Oscar telecast, famously introducing her as “Adele Dazeem.”

If/Then music, lyrics, and book are by the Pulitzer Prize-winning team from Next to Normal, Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey.

If/Then Show Website

 

2014 TONY PREDICTIONS

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Well, the Tony Awards are tomorrow evening, so if I don’t get my picks down on virtual paper right now, it’ll be too late!

It’s been a really terrific theatre season, with many memorable performances. For the most part, the 2014 nominations are spot on, with just a couple of oversights on the part of the nominating committee. For example, as I wrote in a previous post, I feel that nominating 3 of the 4 performers in The Glass Menagerie (as deserving as they are), while omitting the amazing Zachary Quinto, is just wrong. And many theatre people feel that Bridges of Madison County should have been nominated for Best Musical, especially since the committee chose only 4 shows instead of a maximum of 5. Although Bridges (which closed early) was mostly underwhelming, despite some lovely tunes, both Kelli and her co-star Steven Pasquale (also overlooked) gave touching, vocally gorgeous performances.

I have seen all 5 nominated plays and many of the 7 nominated musicals/musical revivals. (I’ll be seeing If/Then 2 days after the Tonys, so I’ll report back on that one).

So let’s get to my picks for the top categories:

Best Play:  All the Way

The critics loved it, it’s a well-crafted (albeit too long) play covering an important event in American history (the passage of the Civil Rights Act), with an all-pro cast led by a TV star. Bam, done.

Best Play Revival: Twelfth Night

This Globe Theatre production (done in repertory with Richard III) was a groundbreaker and received lots of critical acclaim. Although The Glass Menagerie was a brilliant production all around (and it has never won the Tony), I don’t see its standing up against Twelfth Night.

Best Actor in a Play: Bryan Cranston (All the Way)

Best Featured Actor in a Play: Mark Rylance (Twelfth Night)

I’m bundling these together, as critics’ darling Mark Rylance is nominated in both categories. I predict Tony voters will honor him with the Best Featured Actor Tony for his celebrated drag performance in Twelfth Night instead of his star turn in Richard III. Cranston won the Drama Critics Award for Best Actor and I think he’ll take home the Tony as well.

Best Actress in a Play: Audra McDonald (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill)

I haven’t yet seen Ms. Audra’s performance. And I think it’s odd that a performance that includes a dozen songs is considered a play instead of musical. Personally, I wanted to give LaTanya Richardson Jackson the Tony for Best Actress when the curtain came down on A Raisin in the Sun—she deserves it. But my Ouija board tells me that Audra, who already has 5 Tonys (also well-deserved) will soon need additional space on her mantle.

Best Featured Actress in a Play: Celia Keenan-Bolger (The Glass Menagerie)

All of the nominated actresses gave very strong, critically acclaimed performances. Both Sophie Okonedo and Anika Noni Rose were really fine in A Raisin in the Sun, but how to choose one over the other? They will cancel each other out. I’m going with another critics’ darling, Celia Keenan-Bolger. Who doesn’t just love her?

Best Musical: A Gentlemen’s Guide to Love and Murder

GGLAM leads with 10 nominations and it’s going to win a few, including the big one. It’s a clever, delightful, entirely unique show which is also a critics’ favorite.

Best Musical Revival: Hedwig and the Angry Inch

No contest. Take this one to the bank. (If we want to nitpick, which of course we do, we should mention that 2 of the 3 musicals nominated in this category, Hedwig and Violet, are not technically revivals, as they have never been staged on Broadway). So, GGLAM, say thank you to the Tony nominating committee.

Best Actor in a Musical: Neil Patrick Harris (Hedwig and the Angry Inch)

The performance of the season. Maybe the performance of NPH’s lifetime, in its astonishing divineness. No contest, even in this especially outstanding group of actors. Sorry, Jefferson Mays; bad luck that your show opened in the same season as Hedwig, because otherwise the Tony would be yours! (Unless there’s a tie. That would be lovely!).

Best Featured Actor in a Musical: James Monroe Iglehart (Aladdin)

Another sure thing. Iglehart stops the show 8 times a week with his high energy performance of “A Friend Like Me.”

Best Actress in a Musical: Jessie Mueller (Beautiful—The Carole King Musical)

I’ve only seen a couple of numbers from this show, but word is that although the show isn’t fabulous, Mueller is. However, many Tony voters feel that although Bridges didn’t live up to its potential given the talent involved, Kelli O’Hara was, as always, just breathtaking to listen to and watch. (And I agree). This could be the one big upset (and there is always one) of this year’s Awards. And although the angelic-voiced Ms. O’Hara has been nominated 5 times, she hasn’t won, yet.

Best Featured Actress in a Musical: Lauren Worsham (A Gentleman’s Guide)

I’m not 100% sure about this one. I’d love Lena Hall to win, but there’s only so much Hedwig love to go around. So I’m betting on the delightful Lauren Worsham in A Gentleman’s Guide.

And finally, the Tonys for Best Director:

Best Direction of a Play: Tim Carroll (Twelfth Night)

Best Direction of a Musical: Darko Tresnjak (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder)

Both of these productions presented unique theatrical visions, in the case of Twelfth Night, a creative take on Shakespeare, and for GGLAM, a brilliant staging of a new complicated work.

Congratulations to all the nominees (and everyone who brought so much pleasure to the theatre-going public this year)! We can’t wait to see what you do next.